Diversity and inclusion training 101: 5 tips for getting it right

By Lina Arshad

The tech industry has long been reprimanded for the misrepresentation it has of certain social and cultural groups. And while some businesses have always tried to be an equal opportunities provider, others have really had to step up their game in recent years in order to improve their reputation and remain competitive in the race for talent.  

Diversity and inclusion became even more crucial when the pandemic hit back in 2020 and the subsequential Great Resignation started, which saw millions of people across the globe upping and leaving their former workplace in search of something better and more suited to the new normal. Not only that, but we also saw a massive shift in perspective and employees and jobseekers taking the power back to dictate what the ecosystem looks like, including the perks needed to attract and retain talent, and also the company values that candidates look for.  

Because of this, businesses have realized that they need to be doing their part in improving diversity and inclusivity efforts within their industry—plus, they’ve seen how widening the net and how trying to appeal to those historically underrepresented groups can maximize their chances at finding top talent. After all, more diverse teams have been found to be more creative and productive (Indeed).  

And, with a report from Ogilvy stating that Gen Z account for a majority of the US workforce, and are also the most diverse generation in history, it’s only right that they’d want to see the same sort of representation in both their own places of work, and the workforce as a whole. Another poll found that 75% of Gen Z said they’d reconsider applying at a company if they weren’t satisfied with their diversity and inclusion efforts. From an employer’s point of view, this means that investing in diversity now means investing not only in today’s workforce, but that of the future too.  

And while any step towards levelling the playing field for people of all backgrounds and abilities is a step in the right direction, one of the most important parts of improving our understanding is to partake in diversity and inclusion training in the workplace.  

Here, we talk about the benefits that diversity and inclusion training can bring to your business, and our top 5 tips for getting it right so everyone in your workforce is clued up.  

The benefits of diversity and inclusion training 

Prioritizing diversity and inclusivity within your business can never be a bad thing. Not only can it help to boost your business, but I’m sure you can agree that the world would be a much better place if we all felt accepted and celebrated for who we are.  

While there are some obvious moves you can be making within your business to further your diversity and inclusion efforts, seeking to learn more is where real change happens. That’s why if you haven’t already, you should be thinking about investing in some diversity and inclusion training for your workforce. InStride found that 92% of business leaders say having a strategic workforce program education program should help organizations reach its diversity and inclusion goals. 

But what are the more specific things it helps with? Here are just some of the benefits you can get from partaking in diversity and inclusion training, and the knock-on effects of the measures you put in place afterwards:

1. A better understanding 

Just like anything, we can’t develop a better understanding of diversity and inclusion if we don’t fully dedicate ourselves to learning more about it. And while it’s great to understand it just for our own benefit and to help us identify and tackle discrimination, it’s also insightful to get a sense of how it may make underrepresented groups feel. This is not only useful for hiring managers who will need to be conscious of any bias they may be eliciting during the recruitment process, but also your wider teams so they can think about how their interactions with their other colleagues from these groups.  

Once you have a better understanding of the issues that persist, you can begin to take action to eliminate them from your business, potentially inspiring others in the ecosystem to do the same. 

2. An increased talent pool 

When you’re dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion and are not just open to speaking on these matters but also taking action to show you truly mean what your values say, you’re more likely to attract members of misrepresented groups. It’s a natural human instinct to want to be liked and feel comfortable, and we often look for places where people who look like us are welcomed. So, when you’re open about your diversity efforts and equal opportunities policy, you can widen the net and attract more diverse talent that may otherwise not have felt confident enough to apply to your company. If you’re actively hiring, be sure to be upfront about your diversity policy in your job adverts to help diverse talent to understand you are a welcoming employer and increase their confidence to apply. 

Additionally, it’s more imperative than ever before that you take your diversity efforts seriously, with Glassdoor statistics revealing 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees (76%) report that a diverse workforce is one of the most important factors to them when evaluating companies and job offers. So, if you don’t want to miss out on great talent, show them that you care about representation as much as they do!

3. Boosted creativity among teams

One of the most frequently cited benefits of diverse teams is that they open opportunities for increased creativity within business—with figures from Deloitte citing that diverse workforces are 20% more creative than their non-diverse counterparts. But why is that? Well, for one, when people have had completely different upbringings and experiences in life, it means they develop different skill sets, so the person you hire from a diverse group might just be the missing piece of the puzzle for your teams in terms of their skills.  

Similarly, having a richer pool of ideas means that ideation sessions and problem-solving are met with much more innovative solutions. Plus, what’s the downside in having more potential ideas floating around? We can’t think of any!

4. Improved staff retention rates

Treating your employees right is imperative for low attrition rates—after all, your people are your biggest asset, above the products and services you offer. We all want to feel appreciated, recognized, and included, and when we are, we naturally feel happier and more likely to contribute and work harder. But with statistics from Gallup revealing that 45% of US workers experienced discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace over the past year, it’s clear to see why so many people are leaving their current roles in search of a place where they feel better protected and represented. 

By making sure each and every employee feels heard and seen, you can ensure they feel valued and looked after, and this in turn lowers their chances of looking elsewhere.  

5. A more satisfied client base

Each social or cultural group has specific needs and having people that belong to each of these within your business isn’t only great for making the space more inclusive, but it can make your customers happier, too. When they feel like their voice is being heard via an internal person who belongs to the same community or group as them, they’ll know you have considered what’s best for them personally which is sure to make them value working with you—and hopefully continue to in the future. 

4 types of diversity and inclusion training programs 

The diversity and inclusion program you choose to implement in your company will depend partially on the goals you want to reach, and what diversity currently looks like within your organization.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all, so what might have worked for your fellow business owner friend might not work for your company.  

Not sure where to start? Here are 4 common types of training that may inspire you.

1. Diversity audits

One of the most important places to start when considering hosting diversity and inclusion training for your employees is by conducting a diversity audit. This is because it’s crucial to understand where you’re at with your diversity efforts before you begin planning the direction you want to take your training in. Diversity audits should be done regularly as checkpoints to check the progress of your diversity efforts, and also show any gaps that may need filling.  

These can help with a lot of things including assessing colleague relationships and the overall work environment, managing employee attitudes towards coworkers, identifying any discrimination, and encouraging overall transparency within the company.  

2. Basic diversity training

Despite where you’re at with your diversity efforts, sometimes we know it’s best to start with the basics—particularly if you haven’t ever provided your employees with training on the subject, or they haven’t had recent training on it. The aim of this training? To create a sense of empathy and respect within your workforce and to touch on the diversity and inclusion best practices your workforce should know. 

Basic diversity training focuses on the topics that underlie discrimination and harassment, like anti-racism and anti-sexism training, while aiming to educate about the diverse groups employees could encounter in the workplace. This includes those with differing cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and many others. Plus, it’s not unusual for this sort of training to cover human resource compliance training to ensure everyone is on the same page with reporting and dealing with diversity issues in the workplace.  

3. Awareness training

Although there isn’t one guaranteed type of training to suit all businesses, awareness training is the initial step to creating change within your organization. It focuses on laying the groundwork by explaining the need for change, and to set a plan in motion for actions moving forward.  

This type of training aims to give employees an overview of aspects like the current workplace demographics and educate them on areas where people may differ or belong to different groups, such as sexual orientation, gender, race and racial minorities, neurodiversity and more. Plus, education around workplace equity, what it looks like and how to spot situations which aren’t conducive to this.  

Because it’s based on educating your organization on matters that concern diverse groups, it’s likely that any business can implement this type of training and benefit from it—plus it’s great for developing your team’s problem-solving and decision-making skills, and shifting to a collective belonging mindset. 

4. Skills-based diversity training

This type of training hones in on the specific actions people at different levels of your business can implement to help move towards a more diverse and inclusive environment. Skills-based training moves those employees who have a sound awareness of diversity and the issues surrounding it, into a stage where they feel proficient enough to handle problems to do with diversity and representation in the workplace.  

For example, if you host a session based on developing communication to understand different diverse groups’ needs, you can expect your employees to leave this session equipped with the right tools to handle communication in a way that’ll foster a culture of inclusivity. It’s a good idea to tackle different skills in different sessions to allow processing time for your employees and to give them a chance at learning and implementing each skill before they start on another. For example, you may run an exclusive session for your hiring managers and leaders on ways to eliminate recruitment bias to ensure every candidate gets a fair shot at getting the job. 

5 tips for creating a diversity and training program 

So, how do we go about creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace? Well, first off, it’s not just an HR role to implement, but rather it should be a responsibility that’s held at all levels of your business. And secondly, it’s not enough to wait until you have an issue with bias or discrimination within your company to take action—your employees need to be educated on how to be better allies to each other and know the implications of being one.  

While you may already have a DE&I and policy in place, or maybe you already have a very diverse workforce, it’s important to acknowledge and understand that the work doesn’t stop there. It’s very common for companies to struggle with their next steps towards making their workplace more diverse and inclusive, especially if it’s something they already feel their organization is. But according to our Nigel Frank Careers and Hiring Guide 2021-22, just 42% of Microsoft professionals at the time of the survey reported having had diversity training in the last six months. So, if you’re thinking of creating your first-ever diversity and training program, or delivering a refresher session, here are our top 5 tips for getting it right.

1. Think logically about the aims of your training

While we all want to do the right thing, trying to tackle too many aspects at once can mean you don’t provide enough thorough training on any one topic, and rather just give a brief overview which can be vague and confusing for your employees.  

By assessing what you’re already doing, and thinking about the next realistic steps, you can devise a plan that continually progresses as you check one area off your list—of course, all areas will need frequently monitoring and revisiting to ensure everybody understands what is required of them to make an inclusive workplace.  

2. Set measurable diversity goals and communicate them

Once you have assessed where you’re at prior to any training, or any refresher training, it’s important that you set the diversity goals you want the program to tick the boxes of—and ensure these are measurable. This is to make sure you don’t overwhelm your employees with too much content at once, which can easily lead them to confuse the material or even forget it.  

Once you’ve got your diversity goals in place, you’ll need to communicate them with your employees to ensure everybody knows which particular areas to focus on at any one time, what the training will include, and what the benchmark standards are that they’ll need to match up to. When everyone is on the same page, you’ll find you have a much more accepting, inclusive, and welcoming workforce much quicker.  

3. Make people feel comfortable getting uncomfortable

Discussing areas we’ve fallen short in when it comes to something as important as diversity is never going to be easy and being empathetic towards this will help both you and your employees get far more out of your training. It’s more than likely that whoever is leading the training will have to volunteer their own mistakes up as an example before anyone else feels comfortable doing so. If you find your workforce are very reluctant to talk about this out loud, having them write down examples that they don’t have to share, or that they can perhaps share anonymously, or even providing them with example situations can help to break down this barrier to learning.  

It’s important not to make anyone feel like they gave the wrong answer, but rather offer up an alternative and explain why to help them develop an understanding without letting them feel any shame. It might be best to start the session by highlighting that it may be uncomfortable but explaining the importance of it and why their full attention and participation is crucial to making a larger change within your organization.  

4. Equip employees with the time and resources required

One of the main barriers to employee training is their workplace not giving them the required time or resources needed for them to undertake it and gain a qualification off the back of it. And providing them with an incentive to do so can help. It’s all too easy to ask your teams to dedicate some time, but if they have to find this time within their workload, more often than not, you’ll find that they skip it in favor of finishing up a work task. So, blocking out a certain period of your teams’ day to complete a course, or hosting a company-wide training day, will be a measurable way to ensure everybody is doing it.  

5. Commit to the work after the training session

Leaving the knowledge you’ve gained at the door of the meeting room will do no good for your organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts—and can often look like a performative action to your diverse talent. So, it’s important to keep up the momentum and commit to doing the necessary work after the session. One good way to keep the ball rolling and the conversation flowing about these topics is to set up employee resource groups (ERGs). These groups seek to not only celebrate areas in which we differ and provide a sense of community to employees who are affected by, or relate to, these, but to provide resources and education to people outside of this group.  

Microsoft actually has its own employee resource groups as part of their diversity initiative. If you’re struggling to think which you should set up, consider looking directly at your people and identifying which groups they belong to. Remember that some things aren’t always visible so also giving your employees a chance to volunteer ideas for these resource groups will ensure you’re covering all the bases needed.  

Diversity and inclusion efforts have no end points—we have to make continual and consistent efforts to make our peers feel welcome, accepted and included no matter what background, social or ethnic group they belong to. The Microsoft ecosystem, and the tech industry as a whole have made some impressive headway over the past few years, encouraging more diverse talent to get involved, but with underrepresentation still occurring, it’s clear all companies could be doing more to push our work further.  

Want to find out more about improving diversity within your teams? Why not get in touch with one of our friendly experts to see how we can help you today.  

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